In her latest interview, Martha Stewart flexed her privilege through comments about the ongoing work from home debate.
With her estimated $400 million net worth, the 81-year-old author and entrepreneur said she’s on a “rampage” to get Americans back into physical workspaces and away from their at-home offices.
The lifestyle and hospitality industry guru emphasized her feeling that hybrid schedules are unproductive. She also threw major shade at the working culture and people in France — where it’s common to take off work and vacation in August.
“You can’t possibly get everything done working three days a week in the office and two days remotely,” Stewart said in an interview for Footwear News, published June 5. “Look at the success of France with their stupid … you know, off for August, blah blah blah. That’s not a very thriving country.”
“Should America go down the drain because people don’t want to go back to work?” the entrepreneur asked.
Stewart’s sentiments about whether everyday Americans return to their offices are similar to that of several other high-profile millionaires and billionaires.
Out of all the Fortune 500 CEOs, only 15% expect workers in the office two or fewer days each week.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk called remote work “morally corrupt” in a mid-May interview with CNBC. The SpaceX founder claimed it was hypocritical that remote workers expected service workers to be physically present at their jobs. The billionaire went as far as to say, “People should get off the goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bullshit.”
The wealthy’s critiques of working from home highlight how removed they are from the lives of average Americans. Stewart asking why Americans “don’t want to go back to work” implies that employees aren’t as productive at home simply because they’re not in the office.
Forbes outlined in May that “labor productivity — or output per hour — decreased 2.7% in the first quarter of 2023 for the non-farm business sector,” according to the government.
However, the decrease in productivity wasn’t necessarily attributed to laziness. Unproductive employees battle disengagement with their roles and mental stress from the world’s economic, health and political crises. Toxic work environments and a lack of employee recognition or incentives were also mentioned.
Relatedly, many factors contribute to the benefits of working from home — even post the gravity of 2020’s pandemic mandates. In late May 2023, an Ipsos poll conducted by the Washington Post found that 8 in 10 employees were content with remote jobs.
The majority sample said they’d choose to work from home “all of the time” or “most of the time.” The outlet collected data from 1,148 workers, ages 18 to 64.
“About half of workers who mostly want to work from home say not having to commute is the top reason (48 percent); other reasons are it’s easier for child care (14 percent) and it allows them to focus better (13 percent). Among working parents, 32 percent cite child-care reasons.”
A survey analyzed by Axios in April 2023 found that “62 percent of non-managers work exclusively onsite,” whereas only 45% of managers do. The survey pulled data from 5,502 American adults. It also found that managers made an average of $96,000 per year compared to the $51,000 non-managers made annually.
The median wage for Black women in the United States is $36,303 annually as of October 2022, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
A factor that adds to the intersectional complexities of the work-from-home debate is racial dynamics in the workplace. A return to the office won’t impact everyone equally.
The Harvard Business Review cited studies in a February 2022 piece that revealed Black “knowledge workers” prefer hybrid or fully remote work over their white peers.
Based on the research referenced, Black women may prefer remote work to avoid workplace microaggressions about their authority, attire, emotions and professional status in a company’s hierarchy.
Separate data from a 2020 study reported that 45% of Black women claimed they experienced racism most frequently in the workplace.
Future Forum’s fall 2022 Pulse Report found that Black employees ironically experienced over a 10% greater “sense of belonging” in the workplace “during the broad adoption of flexible work.”
“The fact that Black knowledge workers’ sentiment and experience scores are up is something to celebrate—but it’s also something that leaders can’t take for granted,” noted Tina Gilbert, Managing Director at Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and Future Forum founding partner.
“Increased energy, focus, and investment in DEI initiatives over the past few years, coupled with the rise of workplace flexibility, have made a positive difference for Black employees. But to ensure these gains are not just a one-time occurrence, leaders must continue to engage with their Black employees and learn about their experiences both in and out of the workplace.”
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